This summer, we visited Scotland for the first time. With only seven days in Scotland, we needed to maximize our time in order to see as much as we could. While nearly all of our road and train trip experiences and suggestions across the UK are self-guided, we decided to pay extra to have a tour guide in order to make the most of our time in Scotland.
We knew we wanted to visit Edinburgh, the Isle of Skye, and see the Highlands. In addition, we were interested in touring some of the filming locations for the Outlander show. Thanks to a great recommendation, we found the perfect tour guide to help us see all of the above: Andy the Highlander. As an extra on many seasons of Outlander, and a self-proclaimed history buff, Andy mixed history and his own experiences to enrich our tour. While Andy offers trips throughout the Highlands that range from 1 day Outlander tours from Edinburgh to 2 week tours of Scotland, we customized our tour to hit the top places we wanted to see .
We hope our experience will help you plan your itinerary with Andy. Plus, our trip highlights can help you prioritize what you want to see while in Scotland!
Day 1: Crossing into Scotland
On our first day with Andy, he picked us up at our hotel in England’s Lake District (since our tour of Scotland was part of a larger road trip across the UK). For today’s trip, we explored the area around the Lake District, and visited two historic sights near Edinburgh.
Castlerigg Stone Circle in England’s Lake District
Andy’s first stop of the day was Castlerigg Stone Circle, which was only a few minutes away from our hotel. This beautiful and peaceful stone circle was located on a hilltop top overlooking the countryside of the Lake District.
By far the best part of Castlerigg Stone Circle was the informal nature to which you can visit. Unlike more famous stone circles, such as Stonehenge, Castlerigg is located in the middle of a field, with sheep grazing around it! We wandered through the stone circle, imagining what the meaning of the structure might have once meant.
One fun fact that we learned a couple days after traveling to Castlerigg was that Diana Gabledon, the author of the Outlander book series, considers Castlerigg the closest real-life version of her vision of the stone circle Claire uses in the books to travel back in time (even though it is in England)! You can read about her experience visiting Castlerigg after she wrote the first book here.
After our stop at the Castlerigg Stone Circle, we drove across the Scottish border. Our next stop was Rosslyn Chapel, a beautiful Gothic Chapel, which fans of The DaVinci Code might recognize as the setting of the climax in the book and movie. By far our favorite part of Rosslyn Chapel were the ornate stone carvings throughout. Make sure to stop and read the description boards, which explain the stories behind these carvings.
Probably the most puzzling carving in the chapel is the maize (corn) over one of the windows. Why? Because maize was not brought from the New World until after Columbus sailed across the Ocean in 1492, yet the Chapel, which was built in 1446, would have had all the carvings finished long before 1492. Explanations range from a Rosslyn family member sailing to America before Columbus to the possibility that it isn’t corn. That being said, no one knows for sure.
After a quick coffee break at the Rosslyn Chapel gift shop, we continued on to Preston Mill. This was a working mill that was used from the 1700’s until the 1950’s. In addition, Preston Mill is one of the filming locations for Outlander Season 1. Plus, many believe that Preston Mill was J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for Hagrid’s House! During our tour, we enjoyed visiting the kiln, and watched a demonstration of how the interior machinery ran the mill.
Arriving in Edinburgh
After our Mill tour, Andy drove us into Edinburgh, where we checked into our hotel: The Scotsman Hotel. Located in the heart of Old Town, this recently refurbished four star hotel boasts beautiful rooms, and great amenities (including a nice breakfast room). We got a quick dinner at Deacon Brodie’s Tavern on Edinburgh’s historic Royal Mile, and then headed to bed.
Day 2: The Old Town of Edinburgh, Scotland
Our days in Edinburgh were self-guided, and we split our time between Old Town and New Town. Today we filled our time by exploring Old Town. After breakfast, we headed out to explore Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. The Royal Mile is the street that connects Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace, which was once used for Royal processions. Today, the Royal Mile offers fun restaurants, plenty of Tartan shops, and several souvenir stores.
Visiting the Sights that inspired the Harry Potter Series
A major part of our exploration today included visiting some of the famous sights that inspired J.K. Rowling when she wrote the Harry Potter books. Our first stop on our mini-Harry Potter tour was Victoria Street, which runs roughly from the Royal Mile to Grassmarket. Victoria Street is considered Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley (although the movie set’s inspiration is a street in York, England, so Victoria Street does not look much like the movie’s interpretation of Diagon Alley). In fact, a bookstore on the street proudly explains on their front window how they consider themselves the inspiration for Flourish and Bots. In addition, a couple of stores further down Victoria Street sell Harry Potter souvenirs.
You can also visit Greyfriars Kirkyard, where Rowling found the names “Elizabeth Moodie,” “Thomas Riddell,” and “William McGonagall.” Sound familiar? That’s because Rowling wrote many of the early manuscripts at a café down the street, and would gather inspiration for names in the graveyard. Therefore, these headstones probably inspired names such as Mad Eye Moody, Tom Marvolo Riddle (Voldemort), and Minerva McGonagall.
Finally, we walked past the Elephant House Cafe. Rowling often wrote her manuscripts of the Harry Potter books here! (Note: A fire burned much of the cafe about a month after we visited, so ongoing restoration work may have altered the restaurant).
Returning to the Royal Mile to Explore the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town
After our brief Harry Potter tour, we wandered along on the Royal Mile for the afternoon. We also walked up to Edinburgh Castle to see it up close (although due to COVID-19, reservations to tour the Castle were already booked… make sure to check for bookings early if you wish to tour!).
Day 3: The New Town of Edinburgh, Scotland
This morning, we walked across the bridge over the train station, and explored New Town. Don’t be fooled, “New Town” was built in the Georgian Era in the 18th and 19th Centuries. New Town is home to Edinburgh’s shopping district (unless you want Tartan and Cashmere, which is along the Royal Mile).
Exploring the Shops and Gardens in Edinburgh’s New Town
First, we wandered along Princes Street, which is considered the main shopping street. Department stores and large clothing stores such as H&M fill most of the store-fronts along Princes Street. We then walked along Rose Street for a while, which is a quaint pedestrian-only street a block from Princes Street (pictured here). Rose street also offers outdoor dining options on nice days, which is a great place for lunch while in New Town!
Before heading back to Old Town, we passed the Princes Street Garden, which lies between New Town and Old Town. Princes Street Gardens boasts beautiful manicured flower gardens and large grassy areas. We also passed the Edinburgh Train Station, which lies in a gulley between the Old and New Towns.
Day 4: “Lallybroch” Castle, Glencoe, and the Isle of Skye!
Andy picked us up early this morning so we could get an early start to the Highlands! Our itinerary today was full, with a mix of Outlander filming sights, stops throughout the Highlands, and a castle tour.
Midhope Castle, or more notoriously: Lallybroch Castle
After a short drive, we arrived at Midhope Castle, which is the set for Lallybroch Castle (Jamie’s family’s home) in the Outlander series. One of the perks of traveling during the summer of 2021 (if you have time to wait out quarantine and/or arduous COVID-19 testing policies) is getting to visit places with hardly any tourist crowds!
Because there were no tour buses, we got to enjoy enough time for a brief duel against Andy, and a “wee dram” of whiskey on the front steps of the Castle. Andy also showed us photos from the show to explain how props and CGI made the set match the time period. We then stopped at a graveyard down the street where a scene of Outlander was filmed, and then continued on.
Glencoe and the Three Sisters Viewpoint
After a quick stop at Doune Castle (portrayed as Castle Leoch in the Outlander filming), we drove north for a couple of hours into the scenic Highlands. By lunchtime, we arrived at the Three Sisters in Glencoe. Luckily it was a nearly cloudless day (very rare in Scotland), so we got to fully enjoy the views. Glencoe and the Three Sisters are easily one of the most famous valleys in the Scottish Highlands for the beauty, ruggedness, and sheer height of the mountains. We ate lunch at a small pub in Glencoe, and then continued on.
Eilean Donan Castle
Our last stop before heading “Over the sea to Skye” (to quote the Outlander theme song), was Eilean Donan castle. This breathtaking Castle stands on an island in a loch, and is only accessible by bridge! In reality, this castle was destroyed in the 18th Century, but an ancestral descendant of the MacRae Clan diligently rebuilt the Castle in the mid 1900’s in order to restore his Clan heritage. We toured the Castle’s main rooms, and wander around the little island.
Arriving on the Isle of Skye
Finally, Andy drove us over the Skye Bridge and into the town of Portree. We checked into the Marmalade Hotel, which offered clean rooms, four star accommodations, and a great view of the Isle of Skye. Plus, the hotel is only 0.3 miles from the center of Portree, making it an easy walk to town! The Marmalade Hotel offers breakfast with most room packages, and also has a restaurant on-site for those looking for an easy dinner option. You can read more about our experience at the Marmalade Hotel in our Portree Destination Spotlight.
To learn more about our time in Portree, follow this link to our Portree Destination Spotlight.
Day 5: Highlights of the Isle of Skye, Scotland
This morning, Andy picked us up and we headed out for a “wee walk” to the Old Man of Storr. Let’s just say Andy’s version of a wee walk is our version of a hike, so we didn’t quite make it all the way, but we enjoyed the views, wildflowers, and scenery from our hike!
After the hike, we drove to Lealt Falls, where we enjoyed seeing beautiful waterfalls crash into a ravine.
We then continued on to Kilt Rock, a breathtaking set of cliffs that plunge into the ocean. Kilt Rock gets its name because the rock formations look like the pleats of a Scottish Kilt!
We stopped at Ann Corran Beach next, where we looked for dinosaur footprints in the tidepools, and wandered along the beach. Andy booked lunch at the Uig Hotel Restaurant, where we enjoyed delicious mac and cheese, fish chowder, and fish and chips.
Our final tour stop of the day was Castle Ewen, which is called the Fairy Castle, because of the local legends that say this fortress-like stone on Fairy Glen is home to the island’s fairies. By far, this was our favorite stop of the day, thanks to the mythical lore, dreamlike setting, and beautiful landscape!
Andy then dropped us off in the center of Portree for the afternoon and evening, so we could explore the shops and restaurants in town.
Day 6: Dunvegan Castle, Fairy Pools, and back to Fort Williams
After checking out of the Marmalade Hotel this morning, Andy drove us to Dunvegan Castle. While we waited for the Castle to open for tours, Andy gave us a kilt demonstration in the parking lot! We each pleated a large piece of tartan fabric, and learned how to tie it around our waist properly.
While most Scottish gift shops sell pre-pleated kilts, the historic kilt was actually hand pleated so that the fabric could be more versatile (i.e., used as a shawl, blanket, or kilt at any given point in time). This picture shows Andy’s traditional outfit, which he wore throughout our tour!
After our kilt demonstration, we headed into the castle.
Dunvegan Castle and Gardens is a beautiful stop while on the Isle of Skye. Andy guided us around, showing us highlights of the Castle’s collection of Scottish artifacts, and explaining the importance of different parts of the Castle. After touring the Castle, we wandered through Dunvegan Gardens, which ranged from wooded trails to formal flower gardens.
Our next stop was the Fairy Pools. Once again, we were blessed to enjoy this destination with unusual Scottish sun, and enjoyed the beautiful Fairy pools and waterfalls while they sparkled in the sunlight! We wandered up the path towards the larger pools, so that we could fully experience the beauty in this valley.
After a wonderful Scottish pub lunch at The Old Inn, we drove back off of the Isle of Skye. We passed Eilean Donan Castle, Loch Ness, and parts of the Caledonian Canal before arriving in Fort William. Andy dropped us off at our beautiful B+B, the Myrtle Bank Guest House, which overlooked Loch Eil.
Day 7: Last Day in Scotland
Unfortunately, our last day in Scotland came too fast. Our stops today focused on some of the key filming sights from Outlander that we still had not seen.
Falkland – Outlander‘s Inverness
We started the day by checking out of Myrtle Bank Guest House, and then headed south. Our first stop of the day was Falkland, which is the set of Inverness in Outlander. We explored the town square, which is a key location for the scenes in the pilot episode. Next, we stopped in at an antique store and gift shop, which were happy to welcome guests back after COVID-19 lockdowns. We especially enjoyed hearing the shop-owners stories about Outlander filming in the town.
We then wandered around Falkland to see a few other set locations. At one point, a couple was unloading groceries from their car and heard Andy explaining stories of the Outlander filming, and they stopped to tell of their memories of the day the cast and crew filled their little street!
Culross – the Red Lion Inn and Culross Palace
After Falkland, we headed to Culross. We ate lunch at the Red Lion Inn, Andy’s favorite pub in Scotland, which quickly became our favorite as well! The steak pies we ate were amazing, and the dessert (sticky toffee pudding) was stellar.
After lunch, we went to Culross Palace, an extremely well preserved merchant’s house and marketplace dating to the 17th Century. We saw the High Hall, Withdrawing Room, bedrooms, and garden. In addition to the impressive historic preservation of Culross Palace, several seasons of Outlander used Culross Palace as a set, so it is a great stop while visiting filming sights.
After our tour of Culross Palace, Andy drove us up to another filming location in Culross. Then, he drove us back to Edinburgh so that we could meet our train to York.
By far the highlight of our month-long trip in the United Kingdom was our time in Scotland, especially because we got to see so many landmarks in just a week’s worth of time. We definitely suggest utilizing Andy and the rest of the team at Highlander Tours to maximize your time in Scotland. (Note: we are not affiliates for Highlander Tours, we just truly had a great time and want to recommend it.)
Have further questions or want more detailed suggestions about Scotland? Contact us so we can help customize your plans!